Getting Stronger

I’ve been at Elevate studio for a week now–started going right after I came back from Vermont–and the verdict is:

I’m in love with this!

Ten years, forty pounds and several injuries ago I was a Pilates mat instructor at a dance studio in Berkeley. I started off being quite the purist, then gradually started introducing moves into my classes that Joe Pilates had not introduced, to keep things interesting. I’m not that fond of yoga, though I have had a chance to take the occasional class and enjoy it. And old-timer readers may recall that, despite admonitions that I should start lifting to get stronger to improve my swimming, I just could not get myself to go regularly and work the machines.

At Elevate, I get a workout comparable to the gym one using their resistance straps. Each class is 55 minutes long and they pack pilates, yoga, TRX, ballet, and cardio moves into them. Since no two classes are the same, over the course of the week I got lots of upper body, lower body, and core work done. It is frustrating and scary to feel how much less I can do now than ten years ago, but it’s also pretty great that every morning that I go I beat that other Hadar, who stayed home to sleep, and become stronger and more flexible.

Coming to terms with the fact that my weight and injuries are likely not going away anytime soon is easier when I have hope of functioning well and being strong for years to come, and that prospect is infusing my days with happy calm. It is also great encouragement for my swimming–this way I’ll be able to self-care for my body in ways that swimming just does not allow and enjoy the two complementary activities.

Race Report: Kingdom Swim 2015

Newport, VT, for those of you who have not been, is a stunning little town with incredible lake vistas. The day before Kingdom Swim, Phil White, the race director, invited us all to register, attend a safety meeting, and have a happy pasta dinner accompanied by live music. When I left the festivities, I enjoyed this double rainbow:

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The next morning was supposed to start at 5am, with the deployment of the Border Busters (who swam 15 miles into Canada). But heavy fog on the lake delayed their deployment until after 8am, so we all sat and waited patiently until they left. Here’s my wonderful kayaker, Christine Murphy, packing up our kayak and getting ready:

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I don’t know if you can see the red buoy in the distance. The plan was for the kayakers to leave first, and for us to join them after a land start.

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People from 22 states came to the event (many Canadians, too), but I think I was the only representative of California!

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These are the kayakers heading out (you can now see the buoy to the left.)

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And this was the start/finish line chute.

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Ah, Desitin, the substance of glamour, the stuff dreams are made of. Here’s me pulling a convincing Boris Karloff impression.

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And… to the race itself. I simply could not believe the conditions. They were marvelous. The lake was glassy smooth! My shoulders twinged a bit, but a second Advil took care of that nicely, and my back, which was under a lot of pressure, recovered after I rested on land. We expected a lot of chop and strong winds across the lake, but were surprised, at the turnaround buoy, to find completely calm and serene waters. The warmish temperature (mid-70s probably) was tempered by an occasional welcome cold spring (a river flows through the lake). It was an incredibly nice, meditative swim, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

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The happy team celebrating on shore!

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Many thanks to Phil and the wonderful and cheery volunteers; to Christine, who is not only an excellent kayaker but a very special and lovely person; and to the one and only Ruthie, proprietor of Little Gnesta and Vita Huset, whose accommodations and kindness regaled me with a great week of swimming and writing.

Those of you spending some time in town might enjoy shopping for groceries or eating light meals at the Newport Natural Market or warming up after a cool swim with the Tom Yum soup at Dusit Thai Cuisine.



Sick! What to Do?

There’s no way to avoid the unavoidable topic of discussion: I have a bad cold and the swim is tomorrow.

I started sniffling some the day before yesterday, probably because of the swift weather changes around here (it was sunny and warm, then started raining hard) and yesterday was in bed at my rental all day sniffling and sneezing. Felt feverish and my nose was constantly dripping. This morning I woke up with the dreaded throat tickle (probably nasal drip from the night’s sleep), and now I don’t know what to do.

On one hand: it’s only 6 miles, it’ll be over in 4 hours at most, and I’ll be in my warm bed right away.

On the other hand: I’m no spring chicken and I could catch something serious if I fool around with this.



Another Awesome Swim in Lake Memphremagog

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Today’s workout was such fun! I took a longer course than yesterday, swimming about 2.5 miles. I feel fine and am confident that I can do the full 6 miles on Sat, with just short conditioning workouts tomorrow and possibly on Fri.

I tried to stay fairly close to the lake shore, because there was some boat traffic and I didn’t have my buoy with me. The two crossings of the lake were interesting; I felt like the current was blowing diagonally to me, but I could take advantage of some of it on the way back, which felt great. Now that I look at the map, I realize that one of the reasons I felt faster was because that leg was shorter. 🙂

I also realized how important it is for me to sight every 10-15 strokes or so when I’m unaccompanied, especially when there’s a current (and when isn’t there?). It was a fun swim, not too challenging, never difficult or boring, and while I feel a faint twinge in my right bicep tendon, this is nothing that a couple of advils before the race and two during can’t fix. I feel optimistic and enthused!

In Vermont! And, New Workout Craze

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I’m in Newport, Vermont, again! Such joy! Everything here exudes freshness and calm.  I arrived yesterday via Montreal, and am planning to stay several days for a swimming and writing retreat, which will culminate in Saturday’s Kingdom Swim. I don’t think my disc can take 10 miles, so I downgraded to 6 miles. This morning I swam a nice mile and a half (my course is plotted above) and had an absolutely marvelous time. The water is in the low 70s and there’s a light breeze that keeps things interesting but not frustrating. A gentle sun warmed my back and I was overall blissful and excited about swimming in the lake every day for a week!

I’m also going to do some light Pilates in my apartment (I’m staying at Vita Huset, which is awesome, beautiful and excellent in every respect), and maybe look for a local yoga place. This is all inspired by the workout I attended on Sunday before leaving home.

Elevate studio is an eight-minute scooter ride from my house and offers group classes. Their setup is quite unique: they have “stations” near the wall, which include a yoga mat, a small barre, and a set of resistance straps attached to the wall, whose height can be adjusted. The classes–55 mins long, peppy music, young lithe clientele–are a combination of yoga, pilates, and resistance training. They flow and are fun, and the instructor is very knowledgeable and offers great modifications. I think I might take them up on their new joiner discount and get an unlimited subscription for six months to see if I like it. While not nearly as intense or gritty as crossfit, it does give you an excellent and challenging workout, and that feels like exactly what I need to take my swimming to the next level and improve my cycling.

Fitness Adventures: Crossfit Beginners Class

In my quest for improved strength I found myself at Crossfit Alinea, attending their open class for beginners. It was quite a workout and it was hard, but very satisfying. It started off with a warmup, which included squats, scapular pushups and burpees, as well as some range-of-motion things. Then, they placed an agility ladder on the floor and walked us through several running/skipping drills on the ladder. That bit was very enjoyable. Then, we moved to the kettlebells and learned how to lift them, at which point we were told we were going to do an eight-minute workout. The workout consisted of pairing up with someone else and doing alternating rounds of 10 kettlebell lifts and 6 burpees (with a leap over a big box beteween each two burpees.) Toward the end of the eight minutes I was wiped out and my burpees had lost shape, but I could see the value in it and felt rather accomplished at the end. The ambiance and background music is very Banlieue 13, which makes one feel ridiculous and empowered in equal measure, and filled me with a powerful desire to do parkour.

Back to Pilates

I’m happy to report that I’m taking my desire to get stronger pretty seriously. My first foray back to the world of conditioning is one that is fairly familiar to me. In the early 2000s I was a Pilates instructor at a little dance studio in Berkeley. In those days I practiced at home for about 20-25 mins every day in addition to the time spent at the studio, which enabled me to walk around and correct students’ positions when necessary without compromising my attention to my own fitness.  Pilates brought me back from a knee injury, and it appeals to me more than yoga. Studios have all kinds of marvelous machines, but you can get a full and demanding workout on your own, on a mat, with no equipment whatsoever.

This is the fifth successive day that I’ve done a 20-minute workout at home. I can no longer perform some of the very challenging tricks I could do ten years and forty pounds ago, but I’m going to build up to that slowly. I’ve compiled a new routine out of the original Joe Pilates book, Return to Life Through Contrology, and out of Michael King’s thorough and excellent The Pilates Workbook. Any marathoners contemplating a Pilates routine to complement their swimming will appreciate the purist approach and the emphasis on breathing, control, isolation, and precision.

Tomorrow I’m planning to do my routine early in the morning and then head to a completely different physical adventure: my first ever (and maybe last?) crossfit class.

Adding Strength to my Swimming

I’m heading to Vermont in a week to swim Kingdom Swim again. I love the course, I love my kayaker Christine, I love Phil, I love Ruthie who owns Little Gnesta guesthouse, and I think I’ll have a marvelous time swimming in the lake all week and on race day.

I’m very slow and undertrained, but I think I can swim ten miles on determination and fumes and on the little I’ve done. But it is making me think: I’ve tended to rely on technique in my swimming and really neglect strength and cross-training. Maybe, as I get into my forties, it’s a good idea to get a more well-rounded fitness regime going on.

For the last two days, I’ve been obsessively watching this video:

I really crave that kind of strength, and am thinking that maybe my technique has taken me as far as it can at this point and it’s time to invest in overall fitness in the hopes that it’ll lift me out of my swimming plateau.